Doctorow’s Dispatches: Peculiarities of Russian television reporting on the Hamas-Israeli war

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By Gilbert Doctorow

Peculiarities of Russian television reporting on the Hamas-Israeli war

A couple of days ago, I mentioned how Russian state television news was providing viewers with information about aspects of the ongoing armed conflict between Hamas and Israeli armed forces that you would not find in Western media during the first days of reporting. In particular, it was immediately evident from the news briefings on Vestithat Russian emphasis was on the military side rather than on the humanitarian catastrophe side.

BBC, Euronews, CNN have all focused attention on the slaughtered Israeli citizens and the apparent savagery of the Hamas fighters including today’s revelations about the hundred or more men, women and children who were killed in a Hamas raid on a kibbutz in the South of Israel.  Russian news from day one showed pictures of the latest generation Israeli tank destroyed by a grenade dropped by a drone and of Hamas fighters approaching Israeli shores from the sea on paragliders. On two successive Evening with Vladimir Solovyov shows, images of the destruction to Israel’s billion dollar wall around Gaza and similar engineering feats by the insurgents as they moved deep into Israel proper. Solovyov’s panelists also provided expert analysis of the military threats Israel faces from the neighborhood if the war in Gaza escalates.

Solovyov receiving the Order of Honour from Vladimir Putin, 2013.

Why is this difference in what is reported important?  Because coverage of the slaughter of civilians by Hamas fighters and interviews with relatives of those taken captive to Gaza as hostages plays into the hands of the Hamas strategists: it places enormous pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to proceed with a land invasion of Gaza which will result in many thousands of deaths among Israeli Defense Force soldiers as well as deaths of civilians in Gaza that may be an order of magnitude higher.  The violence of an Israeli invasion may be so shocking as to justify outside Palestinian forces, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon and Arab fighters in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen to send contingents of armed men to join the battle on the side of Hamas in Gaza. 

The Western reporting has provided a wealth of material for those who would denounce the Hamas fighters as “sub-human.”  However, considering the great sophistication of the Hamas methods to overcome Israeli technical devices at the border and the wall itself intended to prevent such a raid from the enclave, considering the 5,000 or more missiles sent by Hamas into Israel that overwhelmed the “Iron Dome” Israeli defenses, it is unreasonable to speak of the executions and hostage taking as spontaneous or expressions of raw anger by Arab youths.  No, it had to be planned in advance and handed over to disciplined fighters for implementation with a certain military objective in mind: namely to provoke the Israeli government and draw it into the lair of urban, guerilla warfare in Gaza.

A couple of days ago, in my geopolitical analysis of the conflict, I mentioned that the dispatch of a U.S. naval force led by the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford to the waters adjacent to Israel was likely intended to intimidate Iran and possibly to prepare for an American attack on Iran under accusations that Teheran had aided and guided the Hamas attack.  However, the Biden administration has now stated clearly that it has no evidence Iran was involved in preparing the Hamas action. This confirms what the supreme religious leader of Iran said yesterday in a public speech, namely that the Palestinians themselves are fiercely independent and that they alone prepared the assault on Israel.  He insisted that in the West people under-appreciate the skills and determination of Palestinians.  It is only individual American politicians like would-be Republican candidate for the presidency Nikki Haley and the ever saber rattling Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who are calling for Iran to be attacked now. 

Based on the information about the military capabilities of pro-Hamas forces in the neighborhood aired on the Solovyov show last night by first quality Russian experts, it is far more likely that the United States military presence is intended for use against Hezbollah in Lebanon than against Iran.  This organization is now said to be the strongest pro-Palestinian force in the region with tens of thousands of fighters, with advanced military equipment including perhaps one hundred thousand missiles ready for use against Israel at any time. Israel’s last incursion into Lebanon to crush Hezbollah in 2006 ran into serious difficulties when enemy strength surprised them. Some fifty Israeli tanks were said to have been destroyed then. There is no question that Hezbollah has become more powerful since. Its war hardened forces received battlefield experience very relevant to the present Hamas-Israel conflict when they fought in the civil war in Syria.

One of the Russian experts who spoke at length about the situation in Israel on Sunday night was Yevgeny Satanovsky, who is a professor attached to two centers of Near East studies in Moscow. He appeared in the past on Russian television talk shows when the subject was Russian-Turkish relations but his core specialty is in fact Israeli politics and the economy. It was difficult to follow Satanovsky’s remarks in detail because he was speaking as if to academic friends over a cup of coffee and there was a lot of jargon. But his appraisal of the Israeli military’s degraded state was clear enough. The deplorable discipline within their army compounded the initial problems from the intelligence failures of Mossad. The common denominator both in intelligence and in military command was hubris, undeserved self-confidence, lulled by technological superiority over the enemy. But just as Hamas outfoxed Israeli intelligence by returning to 19thcentury methods of communications, couriers and face to face meetings in place of electronic means that Israel can intercept, so fairly rudimentary bulldozers were sufficient to break through the Israeli wall and a combination of firearms and drones neutralized the sensors and cameras protecting Israel from Gaza raids.

Said Satanovsky, the Israeli military has suffered an additional debilitating flaw, namely the succession of second quality generals who rose to the premiership of Israel over the past thirty years and the politicization of military ranks. He blamed in particular the 2005 decision by then prime minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw all Israeli presence from inside Gaza and to secure the enclave from its perimeter.

EDITORS' SIDEBAR (Not the author's)
Meanwhile...the Western public sees mostly "atrocity propaganda" already shown to be riddled with lies, omissions, innuendo, and gross exaggerations. Netanyahu's words, of course, coming from a crook, a Zionist zealot, and war criminal, cannot be trusted.

For those who want to know more about who Satanovsky is, he has a large entry in the Russian language edition of Wikipedia. Suffice it here to say that he calls himself an atheist as well as a “Russian Jew,” and for several years at the start of the new millennium he helped to create the Russian Jewish Congress and served as its president for three years. He has a teaching affiliation with the International Center of University Instruction on Jewish Civilization in the Jewish University of Jerusalem.

I mention this aspect of the man’s past and present because it brings us to the special relationship that Russia has with Israel. More than one million Soviet and Russian Federation Jews emigrated to Israel. These included people from every walk of life, including some scandalously wealthy crooks who evaded Russian justice for crimes including murder and are not extradited. Since the start of the Special Military Operation, their numbers have risen with the arrival in Israel of Russia’s ‘fifth column’ personalities in the entertainment industry, in finance, in government. With the Hamas attack some of those, like the billionaire banker Mikhail Fridman, took the first plane out of Israel for Moscow this past Sunday, as reported in a feature article of The Financial Times.. The scoundrel who assisted Yeltsin’s fraudulent election in 1996 and then stayed on in power to enrich himself, serving in a succession of high positions, Anatoly Chubais, also slithered out of Israel the same day, but not to Moscow, where he would face arrest. Their compatriots in Russia snigger over the cowardice and selfishness of these high visibility characters.

Of course the vast majority of Russian settlers in Israel are normal, hard working folks and it is they to whom the Vesti journalists turn now for first-hand accounts of the impact of the Hamas attack. They can be doctors receiving the wounded at hospitals or officials in the mayor’s office of one or another Israeli city. You will not see them on CNN.

On the other side of the coin, Russia has and needs excellent relations with the Arab world. Fifteen per cent of the Russian population is Muslim, with their cultural and religious center in Kazan, some 860 km southeast of Moscow, in a wealthy oil-producing region.  Chechnya is also a Muslim center in the Russian Federation and its leader Ramzan Kadyrov is well known in the Middle East. More to the point, Russia is a highly valuable partner of Saudi Arabia in Opec+ in which they jointly set production targets and price targets for the global oil industry.  And Russia has close relations with the United Arab Emirates, particularly financial arrangements. The UAE dirham is now used as a currency for settling import-export transactions by Russia. Of course, Russia is closely aligned with Iran as a fellow member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and, as from 1 January 2024, BRICS. The close ties to Syria need no explanation, since Russia singlehandedly saved the government of Bashar Assad from the radical fundamentalist fighters that Washington was arming. The closeness of Russian ties with Iraq was in full evidence yesterday during the state visit of the Iraqi prime minister to Moscow. Russian companies Lukoil, Gazpromneft and others have already invested $16 billion in production assets in Iraq.

The official position with respect to the war now raging between Israel and Hamas was stated yesterday on television by President Putin: it can be solved only with implementation of the UN resolution on creation of a fully sovereign Palestine state, i.e. the “two state solution” that has been so long discussed but never brought to fruition.  However, what will follow the creation of such a state is equally important and remains terra incognita:  which world powers will guarantee the security of these two states?

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023

The Iranian interest in the Israeli-Hamas war

In my analysis yesterday of the geopolitical dimension to the Hamas attack on Israel this past Saturday, I mentioned Iran en passant as a beneficiary insofar as it is inconceivable that the pending Saudi-Israeli normalization of relations that was being brokered by Washington will proceed to successful conclusion, and that normalization would have been very prejudicial to Iranian interests.

This opens the possibility to a separate examination of whether cui bono helps us to understand that Iran was more than an idle bystander in the preparation and execution of the Hamas attack. And that takes us to published remarks on my essay of yesterday by former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman, Jr. to the effect that the geopolitical dimension of the Israeli-Hamas conflict means for him possible spread of the conflict across the region rather than its repercussions on U.S. budgetary disputes and further aid to Ukraine.

However, all of these questions are intertwined. So far the regional spread has been limited to cross border artillery and rocket exchanges between Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and the Israeli Defense Forces. But it is easy to foresee outbreaks of violence between Israeli and Syrian troops at their common border. And behind all these minor flash points there is the simmering hostility between Iran and Israel that will have a global impact if the United States and Israel should decide to pin responsibility for arming and abetting the Hamas forces on Iran.

Let us remember that back in July, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to reporters about the possibility that NATO military materiel sent to Ukraine had already been illegally diverted to Palestinian terrorists, he identified Iran as the broker. In this light, it makes more sense to interpret Joe Biden’s sending a U.S. aircraft carrier and other naval vessels closer to Israel as preparations for an attack on Iran than for preparations to attack the Hamas urban guerillas in Gaza.

There is even wild speculation in some social media that the U.S. will now use the pretext of Iranian aid to Hamas to bomb Iranian nuclear installations, with either conventional or tactical nuclear arms. The logic and the timing should be seen in the context of restoring U.S. credibility to the Saudis as their security umbrella, while removing the threat of a nuclear empowered Iran from the region.

With its foreign policies since taking office failing one after another, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, the Biden administration is like a cornered rat that will strike out in all directions in the desperate attempt to appear to be a winner before the electoral campaign in the States begins in earnest.

Against these thickening clouds of war over the region and potentially over the world, Russia also enters the picture as a global power, not the “regional power” that Barack Obama foolishly called it. Any U.S. threats to Iran cannot and will not be ignored by Moscow. The simple days of gunboat diplomacy that Biden’s latest directives evoke are long gone.

I close out this essay with a look at what Russian state television was showing in its coverage of the Israeli-Hamas war by its veteran war correspondent Yevgeni Poddubny, who has been transferred from Donbas to their Middle East bureau. What he and the rest of the Vesti news team put on the screen has not yet passed censorship in Washington and London: that is to say, scenes of losses by the Israeli military in the Saturday attack, and not just scenes of civilian casualties, such as video of the kids who were murdered by Hamas fighters at a music festival near Gaza that has filled the reportage on BBC, Euronews, CNN.

On the military side, what Poddubny was reporting on looked very much like what he left behind in Donetsk. There were the supposedly invincible latest generation Israeli tanks set ablaze, there were images of Hamas drone attacks, there was a report that Hamas captured more than 20 Israeli tanks in an incursion against an IDF military base.  They showed images of the hang gliders carrying Hamas fighters from the sea onto Israeli shores.  With advanced lethal materiel in their hands and with the highly sophisticated tactical direction that the entire multifaceted attack by the Palestinians has demonstrated, it is clear that Israeli attempts to take Gaza by a ground campaign are going to resemble the fighting for control of Bakhmut and not the Desert Storm campaign beloved by American generals.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. He chose this third career of 'public intellectual' after finishing up a 25 year career as corporate executive and outside consultant to multinational corporations doing business in Russia and Eastern Europe which culminated in the position of Managing Director, Russia during the years 1995-2000. He has publishied his memoirs of his 25 years of doing business in and around the Soviet Union/Russia, 1975 - 2000. Memoirs of a Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up was published on 10 November 2020. Volume II: Russia in the Roaring 1990s was released in February 2021. A Russian language edition in a single 780 page volume was published by Liki Rossii in St Petersburg in November 2021: Россия в бурные 1990е: Дневники, воспоминания, документы.

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